Four decades of hockey history have bookended unexpectedly this week for Seattle Monorail maintenance director Jay Wescott.
On Tuesday, Wescott, 62, and his colleagues stood on a monorail platform watching NHL Seattle and city officials extol a transportation mode they describe as vital in getting hockey fans to and from a rebuilt KeyArena come October 2021.
Seeing the NHL come here has Wescott reflecting on his previous lifetime as a Clarkson University defenseman — one whom coach Herb Brooks invited to try out for the fabled “Miracle on Ice” 1980 U.S. Olympic team.
Wescott was in a tough East Coast regional tryout camp with guys like Jack O’Callahan and Dave Silk, who later became household names 40 years ago this week when the U.S. defeated Finland — having previously stunned the Soviet Union — in Lake Placid to claim the most improbable Winter Olympics gold medal ever. Lake Placid native Wescott, whose father was director of off-ice officials at the rink where the games took place, settled for watching from the stands after being cut late from the regional tryout.
“I wish I could say that Herb made a mistake,” Wescott said with a chuckle about Brooks, the legendary coach played by Kurt Russell in the movie “Miracle’’ about the 1980 triumph. “I tried out in Boston and I made it through two rounds (of cuts) but I did not make it to Colorado, which is where the final round took place.”
Wescott already knew Silk and O’Callahan, as well as well as the team’s two most-famed members, scoring hero Mike Eruzione and goaltender Jim Craig.
“I played against those guys every year I was at Clarkson,” he said.
But he insists there are no “it could have been me” moments or regrets about his limited taste of hockey history.
“No, not really,” he said. “I think Herb (Brooks) knew exactly what he was looking for. And I was at the games and it was neat. It was an incredible atmosphere. That (Soviet) game, it was only a 10,000-seat facility and it felt like a 100,000-seat facility.”
Wescott was fortunate he got to see the Soviet game in person. He didn’t have a ticket but was lurking near the entrance gate when he saw the security guards excitedly clamoring around then-Buffalo Sabres coach and general manager Scotty Bowman and his entourage.
“I walked right up just as they were letting him through, took his arm and said, ‘Hey, Scotty, how’re ya doing?’ ” Wescott said. “He gives me this look, like, ‘Do I know you?’ But we were already through. I watched the entire game standing in the mezzanine level.”
Wescott notched 29 goals and 106 points over four seasons at Clarkson from 1975 to 1979 — making him one of the school’s top-five scoring defensemen of all-time — under coaching great Jerry York, the NCAA Division I active career wins leader and current men’s hockey coach at Boston College.
Wescott was offered a chance to practice with the Kings’ minor-league Houston Apollos affiliate in the Central Hockey League. But after a few months, Wescott, an undersized 5-foot-9, 160-pounder in an era when CHL players literally fought their way up the ranks, figured he’d be better off using his newly acquired business degree.
He got a job working for the regional development authority tasked with finding uses for the Lake Placid arena and other Winter Olympics facilities.
“We actually did another USA-Russia game that sold out again,” Wescott said. “We did amazing things there with the ski areas, the bobsled and the luge as well.”
Wescott moved to the San Francisco area for two decades, then came to Seattle in 2016 to take over monorail maintenance operations. He oversees all aspects of keeping the trains running.
When he first began here, KeyArena seemed only an NHL afterthought. But before long, it soon became apparent KeyArena would be the city’s future NHL and NBA venue and that the monorail would play an important role.
At Tuesday’s media gathering, transit officials trumpeted the monorail as a vital final connection to get fans to the area — and an upcoming Northgate Mall practice facility — from various Link Light Rail lines. NHL Seattle will build a transit pass into game tickets — becoming the country’s third pro sports franchise to do that — so fans can travel to the venue for free.
At one point, NHL Seattle CEO Tod Leiweke paused and pointed out Wescott in the crowd, saluting his work keeping the monorail running before alluding to his hockey past — to much applause.
“So, you’ve heard about the emergency goalie,” Leiweke said, drawing laughter in referring to the Carolina Hurricanes pulling former Zamboni driver Dave Ayres, 42, from the stands last weekend to play against the Toronto Maple Leafs. “Jay, we’ll talk.’’
Wescott isn’t ready to don any pads in an NHL game. But he’s eager to play a role, however small, in reviving pro hockey here.
“I think it’s exciting to be the connection for a lot of things — to get people out here to Seattle Center and then downtown, eventually to the East Side,” he said. “It’s exciting, but then what they (NHL Seattle) are doing over there with hockey is just great, too. So, whatever we can do to help.”